- To listen like Jesus is to listen deeply, to hear the direction or the affirmation or the transformation that we are seeking from God, or to understand the stories and the deeper-than-words needs of the people around us by being attentive with more than just our ears.
I’ve been on a journey towards becoming a better listener. Maybe, like me, your natural tendency has been to listen with the goal of “fixing” the situation or person. Or maybe you listen impatiently until it is your turn to talk, not really hearing what the other person has said. As a worship planner and leader in Japan for almost 30 years there were multiple times a week when I needed to listen, both in English and Japanese. As a worship leader, or leader of any sort, there are numerous opportunities to listen to your team members and congregants. So, how do we become better listeners? What or who is our model for listening well? Let me share with you a bit of what I’ve been learning…from Jesus, who was and is a really good listener.
Listening like Jesus, spiritual listening, draws us into two areas: listening to God and to others.
Listening to God
Throughout the Gospels we find Jesus spending time in solitude and silence listening to the Father (sometimes with his disciples as in Luke 9:18 and Mark 6:31-32; sometimes by himself ~ Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Luke 6:12-13; Matthew 14:23). Jesus knew the importance of Psalm 46:10:
“Be still and know that I am God.”
Jesus established a priority of listening to the Father and the Spirit in prayer, and he was attentive to the voice of God.
We, too, need to establish the priority of listening in our individual prayer closets. In order for us to listen well to one another, we first need to know how to listen well to God. Attentiveness to the voice of God is the worship leader’s first step toward listening to others. I find it interesting that we only have a few of the prayers (= words) Jesus spoke to the Father in those times of solitude. Those times of solitude seem to have been times of silence with a lot of listening, and just being present with the Father. Even in prayer Jesus was “quick to listen.”
A beautiful, meaningful way to offer this gift to our people even on a Sunday morning is to begin the service with a short time of silence. Silence to begin the service and at some point in the service, possibly after the sermon, gives opportunity for the people to listen to God’s voice without the voices of the worship team or pastor or those sitting next to them crowding it out. Silence isn’t empty, it is full of answers if we take the time to listen. In his book The Gift of Worship, C. Welton Gaddy encourages us that “In worship, silence is far more than an absence of sound. Silence constitutes a vital part of the divine-human dialogue. In silence, worshipers can experience interchanges with God that will not be known where silence does not prevail.” If Jesus spent time listening to God in silence, how much more should we cultivate that practice.
Jesus also listened to God through Scripture. We know this because Jesus often quoted or referred to passages from the Torah or Psalms or Isaiah. God-breathed Scripture motivated and encouraged Jesus during his earthly life. Scripture is also one important way for us to listen to God ~ through memorizing passages, meditating on portions, or singing and praying the Word.
Listening to Others
Jesus modeled how to lovingly listen to the people around him. Listening like Jesus affirms people and acknowledges their personhood. There are numerous times when Jesus would stop on his journeys or even from his preaching to engage people ~ for example: Zacchaeus (Matthew 5), the woman in the synagogue who was stooped over (Luke 13), Nicodemus (John 3), and Bartimaeus (Mark 10), the blind beggar who no one really paid much attention and was told to “shush” when Jesus came to town. Though Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem (= he had something important to do) and the crowds were yelling and cheering around him (= lots of distractions and other needs to care for), he heard Bartimaeus’ faith-filled cry for mercy and stopped to engage with him, healing him and acknowledging him as valuable when others didn’t.
For us to listen like Jesus might mean putting away our phones and temporarily ignoring the crowds around us to listen intently to the one person needing to feel heard.
Listening like Jesus takes time. Jesus asked perceptive questions and then waited for the answers, listening with his heart and with his ears.
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters,” Proverbs 20:5 reads, “but a man of understanding draws them out.”
Jesus drew people out. Sensitive questions and time are necessary to be a good listener. For example, Jesus was not in a rush when he engaged in dialogue with the woman at the well (John 4), knowing it would take time for her to trust him and shed the layers of shame, fear, and theology that entrapped her. In our world today, getting things done quickly is prized. We often schedule back-to-back meetings which doesn’t allow for lingering conversations with others. Perhaps we pause to hear what someone has to say, try to solve their problem, and quickly move on to the next person/issue. But, Jesus didn’t just “hear” people’s words, he intently listened to their hearts expressed through their words. And that takes time.
“Hear” vs “Listen”
Studying Japanese for the past 30 years has given me insight into the difference between hearing and listening. The Kanji, or Chinese characters used in Japanese language, are actually pictographs and give meaning to the sound of the word. Both the Kanji for “hear” and for “listen” are sounded out as “kiku.”
The Kanji for “hear” shows an ear inside a gate or door, like a swinging [saloon-style] door. Our ears are the entrance gate for sounds and words that come in…but sometimes they go right back out. To hear is simply the ability to perceive sound and doesn’t imply comprehension of what was heard using our physical ears.
聞く = 門 耳
Hear | Gate/“Swinging door” | Ear
On the other hand, the Kanji for “listen” gives us a clue of how Jesus lived life. This Kanji means “to listen to,” “to listen intently as in listening to music,” “to listen carefully,” and consists of four parts. The left side is an ear and the lines (十) at the top of the right side lines represent the number 10. The center lines represent an eye, and below it represents the heart or soul. Together, they mean to listen inTENtly (or to the 10th degree) to people’s feelings from the heart or soul through their eyes or to listen inTENtly with the eyes of our hearts. Jesus listened to people and God with this intentional attentiveness.
聴く = 耳 十 目 心
Listen | Ear | Ten | Eyes | Heart/Soul
To listen like Jesus is to listen deeply, to hear the direction or the affirmation or the transformation that we are seeking from God, or to understand the stories and the deeper-than-words needs of the people around us by being attentive with more than just our ears. The spiritual practice of listening is about paying attention to the movement of God’s Spirit in us and in the voices and the stories of others. To do this we need to nurture new habits that look more like how Jesus listened… intently with the eyes of our hearts.
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